Not every work hour is the same. While you can’t add more hours to your day, you can make the hours count!
Identify Factors that Affect Your Productivity
- Time of day
- Food and water intake
- Distractions and distractibility
- Temptations and impulse control
- Intrinsic motivation
- Goal orientation
- Mental energy required
Review the above list and highlight a few areas for improvement. Think of a strategy for improving each area, then implement strategies one at a time. Start with a strategy that is easy to implement but likely to lead to a noticeable increase in productivity – to get the most bang for your buck. For example, carving out a quieter workspace in a less trafficked area of your home has the potential to solve several problems at once (e.g., reduce distractions, temptations, and stress).
When revising your weekly schedule, you should think about when you do which type of task if you want to maximize productivity.
- Everyone has high, medium, and low energy times of the day.
- Notice times of day when your mind is sharp and you have energy.
- Plan your toughest tasks, the ones that require a lot of mental energy (e.g., critical analysis, focused attention, any new information), for high energy times.
- Schedule non-work activities to energize your work times.
One popular timer method is called the "Pomodoro Technique." Many users find that this method helps them balance focused and unfocused time. Here’s are the basics: set a timer for 25 minutes, work, set a timer for 5 minutes, and take a break, then start again. One half-hour block is called a “pomodoro” (the Italian word for "tomato"). After you have completed a set number of pomodoros (usually three or four), take a longer 30-minute break to reset and recharge.
You can use a simple kitchen timer, the timer on your smartphone, or any of the numerous apps available online.
You do not need to follow the 25/5 method if other timing increments work better for you in general, or for particular tasks. Everyone is different, so be mindful of your energy levels and avoid burnout. Scholarly work also varies – sometimes you need focused time to get specific tasks done; other times you might need unfocused time to find new ideas and approaches.
Control External Distractions
- Silence and hide your cell phone.
- Use blocking software to limit Internet access.
- Wear ear plugs or headphones.
- Post a “Not now. I’m working!” sign.
- Work when the house is quiet.
- Face away from indoor traffic.
Control Internal Distractions
- Put your phone in another room.
- Keep a distraction pad.
- Use ambient noise.
- Take timed breaks.
ARC Tip: Distraction Pads
Sometimes we stop a task that took us a lot of time to get started on because we get distracted by something else. To avoid this, have a notepad beside you while working, and every time you get distracted with a thought, write it down, then push it aside for later. Distracting thoughts can be anything from remembering that you still have another assignment to complete to daydreaming about your next meal. Later on in the day when you have some free time, you can review your distraction pad to see if any of those thoughts are important and need to be addressed.